A Weekend in Rome in Winter

Rome in January: reclining statue fountain
A Ryanair weekend in Rome in January; what could be a more perfect way to jumpstart the new year? That thought went through my mind again and again as we soared through the pre-dawn skies on a Saturday morning in late winter. We arrived at Rome Ciampino Airport and less than an hour later, the bus dropped us off at the central train station in the city. We walked from the station toward our hotel admiring the solid facades as we went.

Eat Your Way Through Rome in January

Of course, we couldn't resist popping into a Pasticceria (Il Roscioni) for something sweet for breakfast. The sweets only served to stir up our appetite and we found ourselves drifting into the pizza place on the corner for a generous rectangular slice. It's a good thing we stopped when we did as the rain started pouring down almost as soon as we sat down to eat. We admired the decor, especially an antique radio sitting among the wine and beer bottles on a mirrored shelf. We finished our Italian food eating spree with a stand-up espresso at a local convenience store and bar. After getting up at 4 am to catch our flight the coffee was much appreciated.

Rome in January: La Bottega del Cioccolato chocolate shop

Where to Stay in Rome

We spent our January weekend in Rome at the conveniently located and affordable (less than 60 Euro a night including breakfast) Hotel Montreal. The hotel was situated about a 10 minute walk from the Rome Termini train station. The place had a no-frills but comfortable and homey vibe. I particularly liked a display case of goldfish in the breakfast room. Bellisima!

Shopping Rome in Winter

After dropping off our bags at the hotel, we wandered some more through out of the way shopping streets. We discovered Mercantomonti, a hipster 'urban market' selling goods ranging from second hand clothes to unique crafts. We also stumbled upon a famous chocolate shop, La Bottega del Cioccolato. I could have stood there all afternoon drinking in the different choices and making a small selection. It was also very close to Valentine's Day so there were definitely more red and heart shaped treats than usual. We decided to pick up a small package of dark chocolate red-foil wrapped hearts to fuel the rest of our day of exploration in Rome.

Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore

We passed the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and decided to go in and have a look around. The increasing rain helped us make our decision. Inside, we were greeted with an ornate ceiling composed of square recessed tiles. A small stained glass window near the front let in some light. A sunken area near the altar at the front was the Crypt of the Nativity which is believed to house relics of Jesus' crib. Looking up from the Crypt of the Nativity, the columns and arches soared above us. Outside again, we continued our way around the church, admiring it from all sides. We also took a moment to appreciate the finer details of this Roman neighborhood including a small fountain, life-sized statue, and lion peering down from the eaves.

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The Roman Forum and Colosseum

We wandered through some back alleys between the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and the more famous Roman tourist attractions (e.g., the Forum and Colosseum). It was a damp and quiet afternoon to be out for a walk. We eventually emerged and the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II stood in the distance. We looked around the various Roman ruins. The Colosseum itself was sadly under construction when we visited but we could see the telltale shape beneath the scaffolding. A lone statue stood guard over a row of leaning pillars. Small cypress trees added atmosphere to the scene. The ruins of the Roman Forum are amazing to see and I kept marveling at how the columns managed to stay standing after all these years. For one particular set of columns, it looked like a stiff wind might knock them over. Good thing they aren't located in Dublin!

Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II

We came in for a closer look at Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II. The gate was open and we were able to go in and jostle for a good photo position with our fellow tourists. We were visiting Rome in January during the low season but there were still plenty of people around even on a rainy winter day. The Italian flag stood proud flapping in the breeze. We finished our walk in the neighborhood past an obelisk riding atop an elephant who seemed to be pointing us toward the Pantheon.

Rome in Winter: Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II

The Pantheon

The Pantheon is a must-see attraction in Rome in winter, particularly when it's raining outside. The inside was particularly impressive and featured a soaring rotunda. The Pantheon was packed given the stormy weather outside. A low buzz permeated the room and quiet would descend periodically as the curators of the facility 'shhh-ed' the group to enforce the rule of silence. We took a counter-clockwise spin around the inside of the Pantheon. A gilded altar took pride of place immediately opposite the entrance. We concluded our tour and went back out into the rain. We took time to look up and admire the soaring columns holding up this hallowed place from antiquity.

Rome in January: The Pantheon

Shopping for Umbrellas in Rome in Winter

Lucky for us, there was an H.Due.O store just steps away from the Pantheon. They sell the only umbrellas that we've found that will hold up to the Dublin wind. We would definitely be putting them to the test in Rome during this winter weekend as well since the rain showed no signs of letting up. Still, we soldiered on.

Sant'Eustachio Il Caffè

Stopping for a coffee was another great way to escape inside away from the constant downpour we experienced during our weekend city break in Rome in January. I told myself that I needed to look at the bright side - at least it wasn't snowing ;-) We queued up for a caffeine fix at Sant'Eustachio Il Caffè. The long line snaking through the cafe signaled that it must be good! The inside of the cafe was decorated with colorful merchandise and Italian sweet treats. We elbowed our way through the crowd past one of the largest espresso machines I've ever seen. I managed to squeeze into a spot at the counter where I could watch the baristas make my cappuccino. If the hour is right, you also have the option of adding a little something-something to your coffee. Our coffees arrived and were overflowing with foam. We downed our drinks and quickly made way for the next thirsty customers. The energy in Sant'Eustachio Il Caffè was amazing. It's definitely worth a trip to Sant'Eustachio Il Caffè to warm up on a rainy afternoon.
Rome in January: Sant'Eustachio Il Caffè

Castel Sant’Angelo

We looked out across the Tiber in Rome. The river was swollen and rushing past us. The water seemed to be almost lapping against the bridge above. Walking along, we spotted Castel Sant'Angelo. We debated for a good few minutes on whether we should spend the 7 EUR to enter. We ultimately decided to go for it (you only live once!) and we're so glad we did. We made our way across the river to the fortress. We noted Saint Peter Basilica and Vatican City in the distance. It was still light out when we entered but our visit was timed quite close to sunset. We paid our admission fee and had a look around. Castel Sant'Angelo features a number of museum exhibits with pieces from antiquity.

Rome in winter: Castel Sant’Angelo

It was evident that this place was once a defensive fortress as rows of cannons faced outward and stacks of cannonballs stood at the ready nearby. We looked up at the round walls above us - it was an impressive structure. We circled the structure once, dancing between the raindrops. We eyed the platform above and set our sights on it. We could look down and out at people milling about on the bridge leading over the river. Eventually, the sun set and we were treated to spectacular twinkling views of Vatican City. We also looked out over various other landmarks like the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument. Once again, we looked down on the bridge over the Tiber below us. Lights illuminated the far bank. The fortress walls were even more imposing at night. We inspected the fortifications one last time before winding our way through the sloped stone passageway to the exit. We looked back on Castel Sant'Angelo as we crossed the river to return to the cobbled streets of Rome. We passed a number of other ruins and modern day monuments that evening which made our walk extremely atmospheric despite the rain. Now to find something to eat!

Aperitivo Time!

Early evening in Italy is a time for a drink, some free food, and some merriment. It's Aperitivo Time! We chanced upon Caffè Parione. We bought ourselves a spritz and were treated to a large platter of nibbles for free. We admired our surroundings which included an antique piano, a heavily worn mirror that almost looked like it contained a face in the tarnish, and a partially dressed mummy...what?! Caricatures of the bartender (owner?) graced the walls. We finished up our snack and, more energized, headed toward Piazza Navona. Once again, the historic buildings made the walk very atmospheric. Now to find a bite for dinner.
Rome in winter: Aperitivo at Caffè Parione

Campo di Fiori

Campo di Fiori in Rome hosts a lovely fresh foods market by day. We arrived just as the market was closing up and the neon lights of evening were beginning to fire up. A number of charming shops line the square. We decided to take a random walk in the vicinity of the square. We spotted burbling fountains, a wheelbarrow full of gourds, and countless cobbled lanes. Church facades peeked out at the end of narrow lanes.
Rome in January: Campo di Fiori

Dinner at Osteria Da Fortunata

After doing a lap or two around Campo di Fiori, we settled on Osteria Da Fortunata for dinner. The restaurant came highly recommended on Yelp and they make their own pasta by hand! It was definitely a carb filled evening as the pasta was served with bread. We followed the pasta with some lemon infused meatballs to get a little protein into the mix. Yum! For dessert, we managed to find enough room in our bulging stomachs to share a tiramisu. The dish was sprinkled with dark chocolate and was absolutely divine. I could have eaten one of these every day! We were in a food coma by the end of the evening. Time to go back to the hotel and sleep it off!

Rome in January: homemade pasta at Osteria Da Fortunata

A Visit to Villa Borghese

We'd heard really good things about Villa Borghese, an art and sculpture museum set in an Italian villa in the heart of Rome. We walked through the gates of the park and wound our way to the villa. It was a significant walk through tree-lined terrain. Unfortunately, photos weren't allowed inside. Various gargoyles guard the entrance. Gardens also surround the property and feature fresh citrus grown in large pots. Italian style green houses add to the atmosphere. Even though it was January when we visited Rome, daffodils were starting to bloom. Statues harking back to antiquity lined the grounds. Impressive fountains added further to the atmosphere. We ended up walking through the park surrounding Villa Borghese to Piazza del Popolo. More jaunty sculptures beckoned to us. We found ourselves at an overlook with sweeping views of the city. Piazza del Popolo, slick with rain, glistened below. We headed down a slippery set of stairs to the piazza below. We paused at the fountain before setting out in search of a dry haven for lunch.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Did you know that Sofia Bulgaria also has a rich history tied to the Romans? In fact, the Bulgarian capital pre-dates Rome and was home to the Thracians. Why not spend a weekend discovering things to do in Sofia.

Gelato in Rome in Winter

The weather was getting steadily worse with each step we took in Rome. Definitely bring waterproof and warm clothing if you visit Rome in winter like we did. We stood for a moment and looked out past the fountain in Piazza del Popolo, deciding what to do next. We set our sights on Via del Corso, a pedestrian-friendly street lined with shops. There was some flooding in the area due to the constant rains and we were forced to take a detour onto some of the winding side streets in the neighborhood. We were so glad we did because we chanced upon Giolitti, a famous gelato place. We were cold and wet but we didn't let that stop us from picking up some sweet, frozen goodness. Usually this place is packed, but given the weather, the crowds had thinned a bit and we had the place practically to ourselves. We walked past the green marble counter tops to the rear of the store. We were confronted with a dizzying array of flavors! I opted for an extra dark chocolate combined with sour cherry and of course a dollop of cream on top! When we finally finished our gelato we dreaded going back out into the rain but somehow managed to push on.

Rome in winter: Gelato at Giolitti

Osteria della Vite for Lunch

We took refuge in a shopping arcade with a soaring stained glass roof. We continued on our way until a very persuasive tout convinced us to try Osteria della Vite for lunch. A carafe of wine was just what we needed to warm up! We sipped our wine and took a look around the unassuming interior. Warm wedges of focaccia topped with rosemary were a delight. Pork roll-ups made for a tasty appetizer with a bit of healthy salad. Of course, the pizza really hit the spot to close out a carb-filled meal. Reluctantly, we pressed on after lunch, back into the incessant rain. We danced between the raindrops until we ended up at a seemingly anonymous pasticceria. We stood at the counter nursing a coffee and a couple of sweet treats. We certainly weren't hungry after our large pizza lunch but we were happy to have a roof over our heads at least for a short while.

Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps

We finished our quick (and soggy!) tour of Rome by hitting a few popular tourist attractions. The Trevi fountain drew a decent crowd despite the rain. We admired the fine Roman figures and riotous tumbling water. Even the seabirds wanted to have a look. Next up, we climbed the Spanish Steps. There were certainly no frolicking picnickers out for some sun on wet day in Rome in January!

Rome in January: Trevi Fountain

Rome’s Capuchin Crypt and Ossuary

We proceeded, up, up, and up some more to the top of the Spanish Steps and then jaunted over to the Capuchin Crypt near Piazza Barberini. Photos weren't allowed inside but suffice it to say, it was a fascinating place. Created in the 1600s, one of the monks oversaw the creation of a gruesome artistic display in which the bones of deceased monks were arranged in decorative and symbolic patterns in a series of interconnected chapels. It's definitely worth a look but might be too scary for children.

Concluding a Wet Weekend in Rome in Winter

Alas, our 2-day sojourn to Rome was coming to an end. It was a good thing too. My shoes and coat were soaked through and couldn't possibly absorb any more of the driving rain. I was ringing water out of my wool coat on the plane ride back to Dublin. We hope to visit Rome again sometime when (fingers crossed!) the sun will be shining. It's funny how something as simple as the weather can really make or break a trip. Despite the unfortunate weather, we still had a lot of fun exploring Rome in the winter months.

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: A Weekend in Rome in Winter
A Weekend in Rome in Winter
Find out what Rome is like in January. Explore Rome in January on a winter trip to Italy. Visit Rome in winter for weekend city break. Discover things to do in Rome in January.
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